The cost of your home improvement project is based on a combination of many factors. The overall scope of work, the materials you select for the project, the type of specialty trades required and the amount of time it will take to complete the work. In general, any major home improvement project can be a considerable investment, and the reason many homeowners delay getting the work done.

When planning your home improvement project, it may be helpful to create a list of project goals. This list can be used as a reference throughout your project to keep you on track, while providing your contractor a clear understanding of your expectations.

Your list may include specific project start and completion dates, or your “must haves” and wish list items, or your vision of how the renovated space may function. It may also include how you and your family will live while your home is under construction, and your project budget or limitations.

Actually, one of the biggest challenges of a home improvement project is sticking to your budget. Although you try to plan for everything prior to the start, unforeseen circumstances can arise, which can increase costs. It is recommended to have a reserve of about 10% above the cost of the project for such circumstances or last-minute changes.

When searching for a contractor for your project, consider interviewing a few. You will find that all contractors have a different style and bring their own expertise and experience to the table.  When quoting your project, contractors should provide you with a written proposal detailing all the materials, services and warranties that are included in their price. Make sure that all items discussed during their visit, along with the entire scope of your project are included and that you understand all the exclusions listed.

If you receive multiple proposals, be sure to review each of them carefully, as they may differ from contractor to contractor. Differences can include the quality of the materials specified, the level of workmanship the contractor and any subcontractors will be providing, or the overhead costs of the contractor. Contractors are required to hold a Home Improvement Contractor’s license issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, AND General Liability and Worker’s Compensation insurance.  This can increase the cost of a contractor’s price, however, this will also protect you and your home in the event that your home is damaged or a contractor’s employee gets hurt while on your property.

Should the proposal be more than you expected, ask your contractor how you can reduce the overall costs, while keeping your project goals a priority. Perhaps the contractor can suggest an alternate brand or a similar looking product that offers the same features at a lower cost. If you are concerned about the quality of materials, ask the contractor if they can provide a sample. Or perhaps renovations that require the relocation of plumbing or electrical fixtures can be minimized to reduce the cost of plumbing or electrical subcontractors.

Having an open conversation about how to scale back the project can be indicative of how patient and easy it is to work with a future contractor. The contractor may have solutions that you may not have thought of, or could offer to do the project in stages as funds become available.

While home improvement projects are meant to increase the value of your property and make your home more comfortable, some upgrades may not actually achieve those goals. Enlist the opinion of your contractor to identify if the scope of your project makes sense. There may be different upgrades, that may have been overlooked, that can increase the value of your home.

In summary, it is important to do your homework before taking on any home improvement project. Find a contractor that you are comfortable speaking with and who addresses your concerns. Ask for references for projects they have completed that are similar to yours. If the cost of the project is more than you expected, consider doing it in stages so that you meet your project goals without extending yourself beyond your means.

Before hiring a contractor, contact the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 311, or visit their website at to make sure your contractor holds a valid Home Improvement Contractor’s license.  For any questions about your remodeling project, you can contact HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at [email protected].

Lana Seidman, Executive Director                       HIC of Staten Island, Inc.